Chamber celebrates the past, embraces the future
The 96th Annual Greater Aiken Chamber of Commerce Dinner was a rocking night for many local businesses and leaders.
Man of the Year: Gregory White Smith
Gregory White Smith helped bring Juilliard to Aiken. In the past six years, more than 16,000 students and 17,000 members of the community have experienced Juilliard thanks to his efforts.
With the help of his partner Steven Naifeh, Smith was able to form a partnership between the City of Aiken and The Juilliard School of New York. Smith also established a successful jazz camp this past summer that attracted students from all over the country and is instrumental in bringing St. Matthew's Passion to Aiken in 2014. Smith also wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning book with Naifeh.
Woman of the Year: Dr. Cindy Besson
Dr. Cindy Besson is a local obstetrician-gynecologist who has touched the hearts of many in the community. She has served as president of the parent-teacher organizations at Schofield Middle School and Aiken High School, she has acted as a medical missionary during multiple trips to Nicaragua and has reached out to children and teenagers in the community who needed a boost in moral and stabilization in their lives to succeed.
Besson is called “mom” by not just her own sons, but also by other children in the community whom she has worked with over the years.
Large Business of the Year: Savannah River Nuclear Solutions
SRNS serves as the Savannah River Site's largest waste contractor. It is a Fluor-led company whose members are Fluor Federal Services, Newport News Nuclear and Honeywell, responsible for the management and operations of the Department of Energy's Savannah River Site.
Over the last few years, it has donated many funds and time to various nonprofit organizations around the area such as contributing more than $300,000 to the CSRA Heart Walk in the past four years.
Small Business of the Year: Newberry Hall
Owned by Maggie and David Sacks, Newberry Hall has been the host of many community events since 2001. The business has grown from three to 15 employees over the past 12 years, and half of those employees have been there for more than five years. In 2008, the business tripled in size after the Sacks renovated the building in 2008.
The business has opened and shared its resources, such as its kitchen and banquet hall, for key events like One Table and the Great American Lobster Races.
The 1950s-themed event held on Friday evening at USC Aiken's Convocation Center celebrated a year of great business and honored those who have made an incredible impact on the Aiken community.
The Chamber's 2013 Outstanding Woman of the Year was Dr. Cindy Besson, a local obstetrician-gynecologist, who was described as a professional business woman by day and a “roll-up the sleeves, get it done” parent at night who is a powerful advocate for those in need.
Besson has taken in students who were struggling to succeed because they didn't have the right environment to do so and pushed them to reach their full potential.
Besson challenged the audience at the dinner to look around their own community and help others.
“There are a lot of people in need, and we have so much,” Besson said. “If we just look around and think about it, we can make our community better.”
Gregory White Smith, who helped bring Juilliard to Aiken, was the 2013 Outstanding Man of the Year.
Smith was not able to attend due to illness but Diane Mangiante, director of Juilliard in Aiken, accepted the award on Smith's behalf.
Mangiante said he wouldn't have wanted her to accept the award for him but rather the hundreds of citizens who donated their time and assets to help make his dream of bringing The Juilliard School to Aiken come true.
The Large Business of the Year was Savannah River Nuclear Solutions.
With the help of its about 5,000 employees, it has been able to give a lot back to the Aiken community. SRNS President and CEO Dwayne Wilson said he was honored, but this award was for his staff's dedication and generosity over the years.
The Small Business of the Year was Newberry Hall.
Owners Maggie and David Sacks said their success comes from asking two questions before making any decision – is there a need and will it benefit the community? David said if the answer is “yes” to both, they move forward.
The Sacks also thanked their staff and said the award was possible because of them.
Before the awards were given out, 2013 Chamber Executive Committee Chair Stephen Wilson gave a quick snapshot of what was accomplished last year.
He said the Chamber was instrumental in advocating funding for the Savannah River Site, it has voiced support for the Hitchcock Parkway widening and has taken a long, strategic look at the future.
2014 Chamber Executive Committee Chair Dr. Deidre Martin wasn't able to attend, but Vice-Chair of Business and Community Development Fran Jones read Martin's speech.
Martin spoke much about love, how it was what brought her to Aiken and what has kept her in Aiken.
She stated it's easy to be satisfied with the town one loves, but it can lead to complacency. Her speech focused on planning for the future and concentrating on economic vitality.
Chamber President and CEO David Jameson said there were many successes in 2013, and he expects 2014 to be a great year, too.
“Aiken rocked in the '50s, Aiken rocked last year and Aiken will rock every day in 2014,” Jameson said.
Amy Banton is the County reporter for the Aiken Standard and has been with the publication since May 2010. She is a native of Rustburg, Va., and a graduate of Randolph-Macon Woman's College.
Editor's note: This version of this story has been updated to correct the location of the banquet.